03 May 2011

slow dancing in a burning room

Yesterday I stood in the front of a room full of people, most notably a seven-year-old boy, to preach a funeral for a young woman who had taken her own life. The boy was notable because it was his mom.

A few weeks ago my wife and I hugged one of our college classmates, whose seven-year-old girl was killed because of a gun which went off by accident in their home.

On a weekly basis we have people who call or come into the church because they need food or heat or help. We know that some of them are trying to take us for a ride, but many of them are not.

Not long ago I sat in our preschool office and spoke with a nearly drunk father about how he needed to be doing a better job at single-parenting his only daughter. He wanted to get it, but I'm not certain he could have reached a sobering moment.

It doesn't take too much to realize that families in our culture are hurting and broken. Dr. Dobson was absolutely right, the fracture of the family has intertwined with the breakdown of our society. Now a new generation is taking up the sinful cycle.

These are the realities which encompass the church in its mission. Many of you could offer stories of greater difficulty and more intense need. (In fact, I withhold some that could better make my point because of their sensitive nature.) But this is what we are up against, all the while announcing to ourselves that the gospel was meant for people such as these.

And as it has been said before . . . We are 'doing church' better than ever, but watching the increasing ineffectiveness of our message. What is happening?

From my point-of-view it is a combination of factors, with the common denominators being the church's inherent loss of the kingdom. Let's face it, much of what American evangelicalism currently looks like a have-it-your-way, self-at-center, preference-oriented spiritualized experience. And it's failing to move the gospel outward (euangell-ize).

In the past four months my church experience has included those serious situations that I have described above. However, I have also been working through other things around here that make one feel almost bipolar. For instance, a few weeks ago there was a letter that asked the board to fire me because I wasn't friendly enough to someone who walks out of church, withholds tithes, and openly boasts about both. They don't participate because they don't like me. Also, someone stopped me after church and told me that my attire was not 'respectful' to God and that our culture's overall lack of respect is why the world is going to hell (somehow my dress became equated with the number of abortions in our society). And it's also being said that I don't like old people (mostly since we don't make habit of singing the doxology), which has been thrown in as some added bonus to the rest of it.

When you compare these two realities it becomes clear that the church's ineffectiveness is directly linked to our inability to look beyond our own noses. There were a couple of grumblings at the beginning of Holy Week . . . from people who did not participate in one single event throughout the remainder of the week. (We had a lot of stuff going on this year.) This helps show that those who are willing to journey with Christ will have his perspective in the world, while those who forego daily submission to him highlight their own lack of spiritual formation.

Life is going on today, whether or not the church is aware of such a fact. But it takes more than constructing walls which keep believers safe from the outsiders. It takes the courage to open doors so that the righteous can go out and the unrighteous come in, all for the transformation which comes from pure holiness. Without such the people of God are simply lost in their own existence, while the world around us continues to pass away without hope.

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